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“Magic” Mushroom Compound Eases Depression

Psilocybin led to an improvement in symptoms for treatment-resistant patients, according to a small study.

Tanya Lewis

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Magic mushrooms (Psilocybe semilanceata)WIKIMEDIA, SCIENCEMAN71So-called magic mushrooms may have medicinal uses. Researchers at Imperial College London gave psilocybin, the active ingredient in the hallucinogenic fungi, to 12 people with treatment-resistant depression. All 12 patients saw improvement in their symptoms, and five of them were still in complete remission three months after treatment, according to a study published today (May 17) in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“That is pretty remarkable in the context of currently available treatments,” study coauthor Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College told Nature News. “We can give psilocybin to depressed patients, they can tolerate it, and it is safe. This gives us an initial impression of the effectiveness of the treatment.”

Carhart-Harris and colleagues gave six men and six women with unipolar treatment-resistant major depression two oral doses of psilocybin (one low-dose and one high-dose) seven days apart, in a “supportive setting.” The patients provided self-reports on the intensity of the drug’s effects, and were monitored for negative reactions. The researchers assessed depressive symptoms one week to three months after the end of treatment.

None of the patients reported experiencing serious adverse outcomes. Some said they experienced side effects including mild anxiety, confusion, nausea, and headache, but these were short-lived. The small study did not include a control group.

Research of psychedelics ground to a halt in the 1960s and 1970s after these substances were banned, but it has slowly been making a comeback. Previous studies have investigated the therapeutic use of psilocybin for obsessive-compulsive disorder, tobacco and alcohol dependence, and anxiety in terminal cancer patients, but this is the first to look specifically at treatment-resistant depression.

“Seeing effect sizes of this magnitude is very promising, they are very large effect sizes in any available treatment for depression,” Carhart-Harris told BBC News. “We now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits.”

Psilocybin Decreases Depression and Anxiety in Some Cancer Patients

In a pair of clinical studies of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, participants reported positive changes to their moods and outlooks.

Ben Andrew Henry

FLICKR, KOOIKKARI

A single dose of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in psychedelic mushrooms, alleviated anxiety and depression in cancer patients, according to two studies published this week (December 1) in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Well over half of the 80 participants involved in both studies said that their psychedelic experiences brought them immediate and long-tem relief from the emotional toll of facing a serious illness.

Psychedelic mushrooms first attracted the attention of researchers in the 1960s, but future studies were all but outlawed by the strict drug policies of the 1970s, Scientific American reports. Roland Griffiths was among the first researchers to reopen clinical investigation of psilocybin in 1999, and he is now the coauthor of one of this week’s new studies.

Griffiths attributes the benefits of psilocybin to the dramatic, psychadelic experience that only some psilocybin users experience. “We . . . found that the occurrence of mystical-type experiences is positively correlated with positive outcomes: Those who underwent them were more likely to have enduring, large-magnitude changes in depression and anxiety,” he told Scientific American.

Over the course of six months after participants were given the drug, researchers conducted psychiatric evaluations to determine whether it had lasting effects. Most patients scored consistently lower on tests of depression and anxiety, 60–80 percent in one study and 80 percent in the other reporting improvements to their quality of life.

“It is simply unprecedented in psychiatry that a single dose of a medicine produces these kinds of dramatic and enduring results,” Stephen Ross, coauthor of one of the studies, told Scientific American

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